Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL)

On Wednesday, October 18, 2023 I woke up and felt a fullness in my left ear and diminished hearing. I thought I had a cold coming on, but nothing materialized over the next couple of days. It wasn't until Saturday morning that I realized quite how profound the hearing loss in my ear was. I couldn't hear anything at all! I started googling the issue and made an appointment with my GP for the following Tuesday. But, in retrospect I should have gone to the ER immediately. Once I saw my GP she put me on 70 mg of prednisone for 7 days. I had an audiogram the following day (it was difficult to find a clinic able to squeeze me in) and that showed severe hearing loss across all frequencies. I needed an audiogram before I could get an ENT appointment. Once the audiogram was conducted I was able to get an ENT appointment the following Monday.

My ENT explained that the cause is not known, but the likeliest cause is a virus that attacks the nerve. There are three primary treatments – the oral prednisone that I'd already finished, intratympanic injections of dexamethasone, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments. He didn't think the injections were worth pursuing at that point becuase they have very limited benefit, but he put my name down for the hyperbaric oxygen treatments and ordered an MRI to rule out other causes such as tumors. The wait for an MRI is long, but I was able to start hyperbaric oxygen treatments at VGH on Monday, November 6, nineteen days after the onset of my hearing loss.

However, by that week I was quite optimistic as I had recovered much of my hearing. I could understand normal conversation, but I still had a pronounced tinnitus so I was hoping the oxygen would help with that. The day after my first session I woke with a fever and cough and could not go to the hyperbaric unit, and was further told that I'd have to take five days off. I got over my cold after two days and was feeling good by Thursday night. Friday I noticed that my tinnitus seemed particularly pronounced and at about three o'clock I suddenly realized my hearing had gone back to almost nothing.

After not being able to get hold of my GP or ENT I went to UBC urgent care and was eventually put back on 70 mg prednisone. I resumed my hyperbaric oxygen treatment on the Sunday and after explaining the situation to my ENT he said we'd have to give the intratympanic steroid injects a try. I had my first injection on Friday, November 17 with two more to follow on the 20th and 23rd. 

By November 21 I'd had seven sessions in the hyperbaric chamber and two steroid injections and had no improvement in my hearing. But then I started to regain some hearing. My hearing test a week later showed improvements at lower frequencies and higher frequencies with a major deficit in the middle. Some sounds were almost too loud and were somewhat distorted.

By the end of the year (two-and-a-half months after onset) I had recovered enough hearing in my left ear to talk on the phone using the left ear only, but I still had quite a pronounced tinnitus and some sounds were still distorted or accentuated.

An MRI performed on February 19 showed nothing unusual.

A hearing test on March 1 ...

Here's an article produced by the NIH that explains the condition.

Here's an article describing the use of hyperbaric oxygen to treat SSNHL.

Here's an article describing the intratympanic steroid injection treatment.